In February 2017, Grouse Mountain played host to Red Bull Uncorked, a unique event geared at innovation in park building. Uncorked was a collaboration between Mark McMorris, Seb Toutant, and the Grouse Mountain Park Crew– the course was a dream set-up, with features straight out of Mark and Seb’s imaginations. The event explored the idea that changing the way we think about features, rather than the way we think about tricks, might be the next driver in snowboarding’s progression.
Uncorked’s cast was elite– past Mark and Seb, invited riders included Craig McMorris, Mikey Ciccarelli, Tyler Nicholson, Scotty James, and Yuki Kadono. “There’s a great group of international athletes,” said Mark McMorris during the event, “straight boarders. I love riding with everyone here, and it’s refreshing for us competitive riders to come out here and do something different.”
With a course that featured off-camber butter pads, a kicker with a gap in its take-off, and a series of rail transfers straight out of a video game, ‘different’ only scratched the surface. The course shifted the riders’ focus entirely. Rather than demanding flawless, committed riding like the 80-foot kickers on the contest circuit, Uncorked opened the potential of drifting from the fall-line into lines that play off the inherent rhythm of turning a snowboard. “It’s just fun,” offered Ciccarelli, “it’s more like riding side hits.”
The fun and creative potential of Uncorked was on display from the start. With transition surrounding features like the speed roll mid-course, riders would find lines that opened sessions. Yuki’s method from the side of the roller led to Craig’s back rodeo, Scotty’s ollie showed Mark the line for a seven. Watching the guys bring technical tricks to the precision lines of the course showed their mastery of the sport; seeing the fun they were having showed their love for it.
It was refreshing to see the riders have an opportunity to ride without the stress of competition. With the Pyeongchang Olympics inbound, many of the Uncorked athletes are within months of knowing whether they’ll represent their countries at the Games. That can come with some anxiety– Olympic dreams happen on a four-year cycle, and in a sport that lends itself to youth there are only so many opportunities for riders to make the cut. And in Canada, in slopestyle (the discipline best represented at Uncorked) there are fewer spots on the team than serious contenders for the podium. Guys like Mikey and Tyler need strong results over the next months to make it to the games– and with high stakes comes high pressure.
Still, the guys are boarders. “I’m just riding for myself,” said Nicholson at Uncorked, “if I get to go, I get to go. But with some sports, all they have is the Olympics– snowboarding isn’t like that. If I’m not on the team I’ll still compete against the best in the world through the rest of the season. As long as the Olympics are a possibility I have to be in the park learning tricks and training, if I don’t get a spot I can spend more time in the backcountry. You just have to see everything as an opportunity.” Nicholson went on to discuss Uncorked and what he would like to see it bring to competitive snowboarding, saying, “it would be cool to see some of these features make their way into the events. A butter pad at the Laax Open would be so sick, or even just a roller like this one at the start of a jump line.” Ciccarelli added, “Yeah, something to open up some options. You don’t feel like you need to do the hardest trick when the feature is smaller, you can focus on style and do something original.”
Grouse proved a perfect setting for Uncorked. The park crew absolutely crushed the build, and was on hand to tweak the course as the riders figured out their lines. “We want them to have the opportunity to ride what they want to ride,” said Grouse Parks manager Marcus Cartwright, “and not just what’s given to them. We’re up here at six making sure the park’s looking sound, and we’re on course throughout the day ready to make adjustments if the riders have any suggestions.” When asked if elements of the Uncorked build would work through to public Grouse parks in the future, Cartwright said, “Oh yeah. Using those snowbank features and things like that camelback is something we can incorporate into our parks for sure.”
On the venue, Toutant said, “When the weather’s good there’s nothing like it– it’s gotta be one of the only mountains in the world with a view of a whole city like this.” Seb’s early career saw him riding frequently at Grouse. “When I was 14 and 15 I was shooting with Alterna and had a couple park shoots here in the spring, and I did the Showdown Over the City here back in the day. It’s cool to be back– I haven’t been to Grouse in the past 8 or 9 years.” Toutant’s riding at Showdown Over the City, near the start of the double cork revolution in 2008, came at a time when bigger tricks were the focus of progression. His signature Tootsie Roll flip, which made one of its first appearances at Showdown, was part of a push that quickly expanded to include triple corks. He and Mark were pioneers in both double and triple cork variations. That both Canadians have remained dominant in the past decade of progression speaks to their talent; that they’re now pushing the sport through events like Uncorked speaks to their continued involvement and influence.
All in all, Uncorked was an exceptional opportunity for the world’s best to shift their priorities, and ride with a focus on creativity and fun. The positivity around the build showed its relevance, and left little doubt that unique builds will continue to hold a place in snowboarding’s progression. In the coming years, we will continue to see the influence of events like Uncorked, and slopestyle will only get more exciting. The future of competitive snowboarding is bright.